Last month, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, claimed that Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan is “introducing a £5.50 commuter tax”. It wasn’t true. What Bailey called a “commuter tax” was not and is not about to be brought in by the current Mayor, might very well never be brought in, would not cost most motorists £5.50 if it was and – please take note – would not be paid by Londoners at all.
Bailey was deliberately misrepresenting what is at this stage a purely theoretical Greater London Boundary Charge, which is one idea for raising money – an estimated £500 million a year – put forward to the government by Transport for London as part of the latest negotiations about future funding for the capital’s transport authority.
Now, Bailey has taken to being even more untruthful about the Boundary Charge idea. On Twitter he writes: “Sadiq Khan is raising the cost of living for families, businesses and commuters by introducing a £5.50 Outer London Tax” and “As Mayor, I’ll scrap this tax on day one”.
Bailey’s claim is false from top to bottom.
- Firstly, it is still not true that Khan “is” raising any such so-called “tax”.
- Secondly, even if he were in the process of introducing a Boundary Charge – which he isn’t – there’s no way it would come into effect before election day, 6 May. TfL hasn’t even completed a feasibility study yet. So Bailey’s pledge to scrap it “on day one” is meaningless.
- Thirdly, it is still not true that the theoretical Boundary Charge as suggested to the government by TfL would be set at £5.50 – it would be set at £3.50 for all but the most polluting vehicles registered outside the capital entering it. Only they would be charged £2 more.
- Fourthly – and here’s the new twist to this contorted fib – by calling the theoretical Boundary Charge an “Outer London Tax” Bailey could easily give some people who live in Outer London the impression that Khan is on the point of somehow levying a tax on them rather than non-Londoners when that is absolutely not the case.
A Boundary Charge is apparently not even the Mayor’s favoured option for bringing in an annual extra half a billion. As he recently told the London Assembly – in the presence of Bailey, who is an Assembly Member – he would prefer that sum to accrue from the capital being allowed to retain the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) the government raises from London vehicle-owners each year, rather than it being spent on roads everywhere in the country except London, as is presently the case.
In having that preference, the Mayor enjoys the backing of Bailey’s fellow Tory AM Keith Prince and politicians from other parties, who share the view that VED should be devolved. Prince fears that a Boundary Charge – quite an old idea, previously including in the 2012 manifesto of Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick – could have a detrimental effect on businesses in towns just inside the boundary, such as Romford in his constituency. Khan has expressed some sympathy.
More recently, even as negotiations between his department and TfL were taking place, transport secretary Grant Shapps publicly turned his nose up at the Boundary Charge idea, saying, “We can’t have a situation where a devolved administration in one place pins the cost on people who live elsewhere,” and characterising this as “taxation without representation”.
It is unclear how that statement can be reconciled with people from anywhere from Penzance to Kilmarnock being required to pay the Congestion Charge if they enter the Central London zone or why Southampton City Council can charge Londoners for using Itchen Bridge. But it is plain enough that Shapps doesn’t care for the Boundary Charge idea (by the way, in a similar spirit of constructive engagement he’s publicly rubbished VED devolution too).
It seems, then, that a Boundary Charge is not the most popular option for helping TfL become more self-sufficient post-Covid with either Shapps or Khan, who are important rival parties to the negotiating of TfL’s next funding settlement. It might be, therefore, that whatever prospects there ever were of a Boundary Charge being introduced have receded.
Meanwhile, candidate Bailey is putting it about that the Boundary Charge is a done deal which will soon come into effect and apply to people who live in Outer London. It isn’t true.
Photograph from GLA.
OnLondon.co.uk has been providing in-depth coverage of the UK capital’s politics, development and culture since February 2017. It depends greatly on donations from readers. Give £5 a month or £50 a year and you will receive the On London Extra Thursday email, which rounds up London news, views and information from a wide range of sources, plus special offers and free access to events. Click here to donate directly or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for bank account details. Thank you.